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Very Stupid Employees

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In today’s guest post, James Lawther writes, “There have been times when I have sat there with my head in my hands, wondering what on earth possessed me to hire such a bunch of fools for employees.”

Let’s review:

  • They constantly mess up the same task
  • They can’t follow simple instructions
  • They ignore their training

No matter how hard I try to punch it into them, my employees keep on messing things up.

But I bet it isn’t just me, admit it, you have your fair share of clowns as well.  Everybody has them, even the people who protect the nation hire stupid employees.  Let me tell you a story…

Pilot Error and the Flying Fortress

Times were harsh during World War 2.  Engineers were throwing all their skill, intellect and ability into the design and development of new aeroplanes, planes that would keep the enemy at bay and defend our troops, planes that saved lives and won wars.  This new exotic machinery was then handed over to a to a group of young male pilots to fly, and what did they do?  Crash them; and in the most incongruous of circumstances.

© Flickr user brizzlebornandbred/

Take for example the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, they were given to hundreds of pilots, who successfully took them out, fought the enemy and brought them back to land.  Then, the second they touched down, instead of pulling the lever to lift the flaps and slow the plane down they pulled the lever that retracted the undercarriage.  It hardly takes a genius to realise that retracting the undercarriage just as a plane touches down is not a clever thing to do, the wheels come up into the plane, the propeller ploughs into the field and the machine attempts to do cartwheels; very expensive and potentially lethal cartwheels.

No matter how many memos were written, disciplinary procedures undertaken and lectures attended, the pilots continued to crash their aircraft.  And this didn’t just happen to B-17’s but B-25 Mitchells and P-47 Thunderbolts as well.

Simple, straight forward, foolish, pilot error.

Was it Really Pilot Error?

This destruction was happening with such alarming regularity that Lieutenant Alphonse Chapanis was sent to investigate the causes.  He realised that the levers for the flaps and the wheels were identical.  They were also right next to each other, out of sight, in a cramped cockpit.  Yes the pilots were pulling the wrong lever in error, it was “their fault”, but the design of the controls was hardly making it easy.

© Flickr user @silenus81

The solution to the problem was simple, a hard wedge was stuck on the lever for the flaps, and on the one for the wheels a simple rubber disk.

And he got an instant result:

No more crash landings.  Pilot error vapourised, as easily as that.

Back to my Employees

On reflection, they probably aren’t being willfully stupid, or negligent, it is just that the systems and processes they work with really aren’t that easy to get right.  Maybe the problem isn’t “employee error” at all, maybe I am guilty of “management error”.

How about you?

James Lawther writes about process improvement and anything else that catches his fancy at www.squawkpoint.com

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